Sixth Sunday of Easter
A view of the Acropolis, home of multiple temples to Athena, Artemis, Zeus, Aclepios and other Greek gods,
from the Areopagus (“Mars Hill”), site of the court of appeal for major civil and criminal cases in Athens,
as well as the speech/sermon by Paul recorded in today’s reading from Acts 17.
Photo by Ggia. Used by permission under a Creative Commons License [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ].
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Paul visits Athens and takes the time to learn and understand its cultural assumptions and icons. When he speaks publicly in the Areopagus, center of philosophy and courts, he rhetorically repurposes these cultural assumptions and icons, showing how they point to God's kingdom already at work and Jesus Christ as King and risen Lord.
Psalm 66:8-20 (UMH 790).
Despite persecution and difficulty, the people of God continue to offer themselves with thankful sacrifice, wherever they are. If you use the sung response, sing the psalm to Tone 1 in C major.
1 Peter 3:13-22
Christ suffered and died for all people in all times and everywhere. So wherever we are, we are to be ready to give an account for the hope that is us. For some clues about the contexts where we may all find ourselves, see www.membermission.org.
Jesus says he will give the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with and in his disciples forever, wherever they go, always, everywhere.
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Today is the sixth Sunday of Easter. We continue the work of mystagogy—grounding the newly baptized and the whole church in our basic doctrine, and readying persons to discern, claim and be commissioned for their ministries in the world come Pentecost. Today’s doctrinal focus is Christ’s Lordship Is made Known Everywhere. Today’s ministry focus is Preparing for Ministry in All of Your Missional Contexts.
Today is also the final Sunday in Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. and Christian Home Month.
Some U.S. congregations may also include worship elements relating to the U.S. civil holiday, Memorial Day, today. Memorial Day proper falls on Monday, May 26.
This Thursday, May 29, is the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, forty days after the resurrection of Jesus. This was one of only three non-Sunday observances John Wesley retained in the Anglican calendar for use by Methodists in America. The other two were Good Friday and Christmas Day. Most United Methodists are likely to celebrate the Ascension next Sunday, June 1.
The texts for Ascension Day/Sunday provide several lenses for celebrating and living the reality of the ascension of Jesus. The act of ascension (Jesus rising into the sky) is less important than what it signifies — his enthronement, his being exalted to the right hand of the Father, and his authority in heaven and on earth.
Like the Resurrection, the ascension of Christ is not primarily a historical proposition we investigate to prove or disprove, but instead an article of our faith in God's history with us and our history as God's people. It is affirmed in all the ecumenical creeds on a par with the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. "He ascended into heaven” affirms the core Christian conviction of the fullness of Christ's reign now and in the age to come. See UMBOW 401-404 for additional Ascension-related resources.June to September
June 8 Pentecost
June 15 Trinity Sunday, Father's Day and Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
June 19 Juneteenth
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
Back to School Resources
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Atmospherics: The Mission Field Is Always Everywhere
The common thread binding this week’s text might be phrased something like “The Mission Field is Always Everywhere.” From the intellectual capital of the Western world (Athens), to newly baptized Christians getting their “marching orders” in Palestine and Rome (I Peter), to the disciples with Jesus in Jerusalem being told they will receive the Holy Spirit who will go with them wherever they go, all of the readings are clear on this point. Wherever we go, the Spirit has preceded us and goes with us. There is always something to proclaim, some way to articulate the reality of the world made new in God’s kingdom whose King is the Risen One, Jesus Christ. The Spirit gives such proclamation to us, always. Will we be faithful to speak and embody what the Spirit gives?
Doctrinal Focus: Christ's Lordship Is Made Known Everywhere
Last week, our doctrinal focus made it clear that for Christians Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which everything about the life and ministry of disciples and of the church is built.
This week, we make an even bolder claim. There is no place where Christ is not Lord and no place where Christ’s lordship is not being made known.
This is simply assumed by I Peter in connection with Christ’s ascension into heaven, which we celebrate this coming Thursday or next Sunday. Jesus, I Peter says, “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers made subject to him” (I Peter 3:22, NRSV). I Peter thus makes an even bolder claim about Jesus: Christ is Lord of the universe and every source of power and authority within it. It’s an extraordinary claim, one we also are called continually to make, and as we make it, to ponder its implications not only for the universe, but for our own lives where we live them as well.
Our reading this week from Acts operates more on this human, historical plane as a kind of “real world test case” for I Peter’s more cosmic claim. It would appear that Paul and his team were the first Christians ever to arrive in Athens. There is no sign of a Christian community there of any kind. And it’s not entirely clear that, at the end of his sermon, there were more than a handful of actual converts to Christianity as a result at that time. Inquirers, yes; converts, only two names “and others with them” are mentioned.
Still Paul, like I Peter, was confident that Christ was Lord everywhere, not just among people where Jesus had lived or where his resurrection and way had already been proclaimed. Somewhere, if he looked for it, he would find embedded within Athenian culture a sign pointing to Christ. He sought, and he found. He found it in the form of an altar (or perhaps altars) dedicated “to the unknown God.” And he found it in their philosophical poetry, in Aratus of Soli’s Phenomena, verse 5 “For we are also his offspring,” which Paul quoted verbatim (Acts 17:28), if also as part of a radical reframing.
In Your Planning Team
Which way do you need to go in your context with this week’s doctrinal focus? Do you need to move from I Peter’s cosmic claim to the more particular story of Paul in Athens? Or does your community need to move more from the particular to “add up” to the more general or cosmic? Or are you a community that does best when you handle both at once to let folks make their own way from either the cosmic or the particular to the other and back again?
Whichever path best describes your worshiping community (and don’t trust just your own judgment on this, pastor—this is why you have a planning team!), plan the balance and emphasis of hymns, preaching, graphics and artwork accordingly.
Whatever the most useful path in your context, you’ll want to get more stories of the particular demonstrations of Christ’s lordship everywhere from your own lives as a team and the lives of your congregation and folks you and they know.
This is also why you are a team! Send team members out to ask folks they know to describe a time in their life when they were somewhere where they might not have thought to find Christ, but found him anyway, as well as stories where, like Paul, they may have taken the time to understand a new (or old!) environment well enough to conclude beyond any doubt that Christ was present as Lord there, too.
Why these stories? Stories of how people have already seen Christ as Lord in “unusual” places or perhaps unusual ways teach more and more of us to see and how to see what perhaps we might have overlooked before. Sharing such testimonies begets more. What may seem to some like abstract doctrinal affirmations soon become joyously obvious realities all around us. More of us become able to move seamlessly from confessing Jesus as Lord of all in ritual and worship to bearing witness to this reality in daily living.
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Ministry Focus: Preparing for Ministry in All Your Missional Contexts
John gives us assurance from Jesus that we will have what we need most in ministry in Christ’s name wherever we go or wherever we find ourselves: the Holy Spirit. “I will not leave you orphaned: I am coming to you” (John 14:18, NRSV). The one who will be with us, and in us, and abiding with us is the Spirit of Truth (verse 17). And the Holy Spirit will be with us forever (verse 16).
Of course, as we’ve affirmed in our doctrinal focus this week, the fact that the Spirit is with us, wherever we go or find ourselves, does not mean the Spirit is at work only in us. But it does mean we have both the “objective” witness of doctrine and the “inner assurance” of the presence of the Holy Spirit always, and everywhere.
And this is what empowers us to be on mission with Christ always and everywhere.
I Peter makes a big point about always. In our reading this week, he continues to challenge newly baptized Christians, with the whole church, to live out the enormity of the mission before us. “Always,” Peter says, “be ready to make your defense for the hope that is in you”—from day one, forward. Always. Not occasionally. Not when we feel like it. Always.
And everywhere. Consider all the places we see Paul before and during this week’s reading from Acts. He’s in Athens, a city where apparently no Christians were present and few if any Christians had previously visited. In the verses before our reading, we find him in the synagogue, with his fellow Jewish people. He was in the marketplace daily (verse 17), and then was taken to the Areopagus, part philosophical center, part court. In all of these places, he is at once learning the local culture and teaching about Christ. And as Acts records it, at least, he appears to have spent the least amount of time in these ministries in the synagogue proper. Most of it was outdoors, among the people, in the varieties of ways people gathered and interacted. If his sermon at the Areopagus on sort of the ultimate pagan ground linking Christ to this very idolatrous culture were not enough sign that the mission is always everywhere, simply where he goes and what he does is stronger sign still.
Paul prepared himself to be in mission always, everywhere. He learned the culture. He took time to figure out how the marketplace worked and how people interacted there. He went not just to his own preferred “religious place” (the synagogue, verse 17) but spent enough time in their local religious hotspots (verse 23) that he was able to capture a deep understanding of what they valued in religion. He even learned their poetry and how to argue with their leading philosophers (verses 18, 27).
If you watch Luke’s accounts of Paul’s ministry carefully, you find Paul following a very similar pattern nearly everywhere he went. He used his own gifts and skills and learned whatever he needed to from his new context so he could, indeed, be on mission wherever he was—at work, leisure, religious assemblies, “school,” or the marketplace.
We have the promised Holy Spirit. We have the mandate to witness always, and the example to do so everywhere we find ourselves.
But what about the training? How are we helping one another live out this common mission to which we’ve all been called by Jesus, into which we’ve all been initiated in baptism, and for which we’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit—in all the places we actually “live and move and have our being” ? (verse 28)
That’s what today’s and this week’s ministry focus is for. Of course you can’t train everyone to have everything they need for mission always and everywhere in one Sunday, or even one week. But today, you can especially highlight how we are called to and can be on mission (and some of us are!), and perhaps how we might gain additional skills to do so better than we do now, always and everywhere we all go or are.
In Your Planning Team
Over the past several years, and already today in the Readings section above, I frequently refer to Wayne Schwab’s Member Mission website (http://www.membermission.org). Today, I can’t think of a better way to support your team’s planning for worship than to point you here once again. This site, more than any single place I know on the Internet, makes clear in the most profound and yet ordinary way that the mission of the church is best accomplished when all its members are missionaries who live out God’s mission in the world in all of the missional contexts in which we ordinarily find ourselves, day to day. The Rev. Schwab describes seven fields of daily mission: home, work (and/or school), community, world (including marketplate), leisure, spirituality, and church. He puts church last with good reason. It’s likely the one of these, like Paul with the synagogue in Athens, where most of us probably spend the least actual time.
So as you plan worship and the follow-up activities that will help more of your members discover how they can be (or perhaps already ARE!) in mission always and everywhere, point your team members here for a homework exercise before your planning meeting.
1. Have each team member visit http://www.membermission.org and explore the site thoroughly. There are videos to watch, resources to read, and tools to learn about that can help each team member, and every member of your church, begin the journey of being on mission with Christ always and everywhere in their lives.
2. Have team members write out how they already are on mission, or could be on mission better, in each of these seven mission fields they encounter every week: home, work (or school), community, world (including marketplaces and the Internet!), leisure, personal spirituality, and church.
Spend the first 15-20 minutes of your planning time, after you’ve opened in worship and prayer, sharing answers to question 2. Focus the conversation on two things especially: (1) How are they already on mission and (2) What would they need to learn or do differently to be on mission in these areas better than they are now.
Assuming your team represents a cross section of the congregation, this conversation will give you great clues about how to plan worship today that (a) celebrates that our call to mission is always and everywhere; (b) gives witness to ways people already are in mission in all seven areas regularly and how they learned to do this better; and (c) invites people to step up to the totality of this calling and take whatever next steps in training or mutual support they need to become as active in ministry in all contexts as the Holy Spirit who is given to us all actually empowers us to be.
Celebration, witness, and invitation (including invitation to discipleship, to baptism, and to the Lord’s Table!)—that’s the flow for today. Move through that flow in your context today, populating it with the Scriptures, music, and art that resonate with the stories you’ve uncovered in your context, and you’ll have designed worship that becomes a great launching pad for the other processes you put in place in the coming week to help people take those next steps.
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Embodying the Word: Confessions of Faith for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Affirmation from Romans 8 (UMH 887)
Affirmation from I Corinthians 15 (UMH 888)
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- BOW 390 (John)
- BOW 198 or 200, "May the Warm Winds of Heaven" (John)
BOW 464 (1 Peter)
Concerns and Prayers
- BOW 397 (1 Peter)
- BOW 545 For Those Who Suffer (1 Peter )
- UMH 255 (Acts)
- BOW 399 Week 6 (Easter)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Botswana, Zimbabwe
BOW 66-67 (Easter season)
Resources from Worship&Song, Pew Edition
3153, “O God, in Whom We Live,” begins with words from the poem Paul cites in today’s reading from Acts 17, and continues as a prayerful paraphrase of his sermon to a new tune. It would be a splendid response to the reading of the first lesson today. Since the tune will be unfamiliar, consider asking the choir or praise team to sing the first verse, then have the congregation join on subsequent verses.
3073, “We’ll Walk His Way,” is a simple, fun, and intricately rhythmic, 4-part, South African chorus that would make a great “wrap-around” for the reading of I Peter today. Definitely plan to teach at least the rhythmic pattern of this before the service begins, so the congregation will “walk” through this song rather than stumble when they sing it!
3147, “Built on a Rock,” is a new arrangement of a classic, eighteenth-century Danish text and tune. It can work with either the reading from I Peter (especially the reference to the font in verse 5—since I Peter is a baptismal sermon!) or Jesus’ statement in John that he does not leave us orphans, but comes to us to establish us in the Spirit. Note a typographical error in the first editions of verse 2: It should read, “Surely, in temples made with hands Almighty God is NOT dwelling” (not, “now dwelling!).
3185, “Send Us Your Spirit, O Lord.” This recent text and tune by Dan Schutte, though perhaps originally intended for evening prayer, also makes a great response or closing hymn if the service today focuses on Christ’s promise in the gospel reading to send the Spirit.
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